The adage goes that history is written by the victors. The stories we tell ourselves about who we are, where we came from, and what matters all come through that lens. After all, the winners are the ones still around to do the telling, rewriting themselves as the heroes no matter how things actually played out. It takes confession or disciplined historiography to get a full context and honest understanding.
This week, at least in the world of sneakers, we get just that.
When the Air Jordan VII released in 1992, famed sneaker designer Tinker Hatfield took inspiration from Afropop aesthetics and brought neoprene to the line for the first time. It was a new level of innovation, appropriate for a sneaker that Michael Jordan would wear to win his third MVP and second title. But that summer Jordan was going to Barcelona for the Olympic Games and he needed a colorway that would play appropriately on an international court with a team that was poised to dominate the world.
For the fourth colorway of Jordan’s seventh signature shoe, Hatfield dreamed up two different layouts. Both versions used a white base with elements of red, blue, black and gold, but each version played with the balance a little differently.
“This one was in the works for a while,” says Hatfield. “I did one that was more white based and one that was much more contrasted. My recollection is that MJ thought the contrasted one was really cool. Ultimately, I left it up to him.” The contrasted colorway featured much more dark blue and a midsole with a red gradient—it was bolder and had a younger feel to it.
But Jordan picked the whiter colorway. And then he, and the rest of the American team, won gold.
The “Olympic” colorway of the Air Jordan VII became an instant classic, and one that Jordan Brand has released with relative consistency. Walking around the streets of most major cities, the tuned eye will see a pair of Olympic VIIs every single day. They’re classics.
The other colorway dreamed up by Hatfield would normally be relegated to the dustbin of history. But this year Jordan Brand decided to do something a little different, resurrecting the forgotten layout to celebrate this year’s Rio Olympics.
It’s a unique move, and one that Nike has been repeating recently. Earlier this year the brand released the Air Max 0, Tinker’s first design in the Air Max line that never saw the light of day. When brands are as big as Nike, and as protective of their identity as a multinational company has to be, brand history tends to get very cut and dry.
There’s something refreshing about Nike’s recent ability to look back, reflect, pull out pieces of its own history, and make them available to fans who are hungry to better understand the legacy—and take a piece of it home.
The Air Jordan VII “Alternate” is available starting this weekend. Retail is set at $190.